For me, achieving a degree was important because I wanted to create a comfortable and stable life for my family as well as build a successful career. However, everyone has different reasons and this year I've been really interested to hear what higher education means to prospective students, through my role on the Student Finance Tour.
The Tour - run by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills - gave students in schools and colleges across England the facts about student finance and I loved being a part of it. From September, 38 recent graduates toured around the country, spoke about their experiences of higher education and provided prospective students with all the essential student finance information to demonstrate that university can work for anyone.
In three months, we collectively spoke to over 170,000 prospective students and visited 2,594 schools, colleges and community venues. I myself delivered presentations at 30 different events around England.
A big focus for the Tour was speaking to people who were interested in part time study - I spoke to a gentleman who was working two jobs to provide for his family but whose ambition was to become a teacher. He was keen on studying part time as he needed to keep working to continue supporting his family. Another person was a mother of four who initially thought she would study full-time but after hearing my presentation thought that, with her family commitments, part time was probably the best route for her to take. It was rewarding to be able to give advice and tell my experience of higher education.
From speaking with people from all different backgrounds I learned that largely their main worry was about the financial impact studying will have on their future, especially those wanting to study part time. Questions like 'can I get a student loan if I have had trouble with finances in the past, but want to study part time?' and 'I'm older than 25. Can I apply for a loan to study part time?' were regular ones I was asked.
It was really important for me to be able to provide clear and concise advice so potential students can choose a route that works for them. Just in case you're reading this and want the answers yourselves - there is no upper age limit and there's no credit check when it comes to applying for a part time tuition fee loan. Once graduated you only need to pay back 9% of anything you earn over £21,000 a year so there shouldn't be anything stopping you from learning and achieving your dreams.
It was always my ambition to go to university, but as we all know, things don't always turn out as you plan them. As I got older and my commitments grew, I thought I might have missed my chance. For me, having a family was also hugely important and, once I'd had children, they became my priority. But, even though it hasn't been easy at times, I didn't let my family role prevent me from fulfilling my dream of studying at higher education. I have the best of both worlds now and it makes my family very proud.